Storyglossia Issue 14, June 2006.

Junction Regale

by Colin Fleming


It's not really killing yourself in the strict killing yourself fashion if you only commit to the thought of killing yourself I have decided in my fantastic day of decisions and medicine.

The train stops at the junction in Chichester and you have to sit for hours before it's ready to leave again, waiting on a dinner car, apparently traveling on its own and vitally important, to arrive from Slough, or Aldershot or Woking—I never seem to remember where. It was in the middle of my roamings today, in the middle of a crosswalk, before leaving one place I cannot stand for a journey to one where I would rather never be, that I closed my eyes and so skillfully settled upon my decision—post-medicine—which I am now seconding as quite right, in my thoughts, in principle, with the able council of brother Gabriel. My most constant dose yet of court proceedings on the television, five sustained days, counting videotaped reruns of trials past, at night, when the infomercials come on, and the thoughts that refuse to stop sounding in my mind, and my mother too, in whose direction I am again waiting to be traveling, my ever-living mother in the middle of what might as well be an ocean and all the death around, all of it insufferable, soiled-bandage smelling rot that would leave me cold were it not for my budget-priced collection of requiems on the Naxos label, my very favourite record label, such important historical recordings and all quite cheap.

I might add, first, that you may do as I do, though situations can of course be tricky and variable, quite naturally. So be prudent. And second, that I am, shall we say, intoning the word malfeasance throughout this day of mine, though of course one has to rather whistle it down if a train must be boarded. We have a full house today, the conductor will say, though let it be known that the misrepresentation of a domicile for a machine of travel is not my error. And in addition to pondering what happened the last time at the junction in Chichester—so drastically different—I did indeed look up the word malfeasance, which does not mean quite what I thought it did, though in the same spirit I was inspired to change the name of S— whom I have loved and now am forever apart from, this time quite eternally—she lives, of course—to Chuck, my new former boyfriend, the girl bit got out, truly. I would cite all of the above of proof of my sound judgment amidst my day of medication and decision, but I have, at the end of it, been pushed further than I even used to allow the Mozster and the boys to push me by the sight of the bloke in the bookstore with the outrageously oversized Afghan sweater, frilly scarf and granny glasses who protested I was in his way as I stood with my head pressed against a fat stack of used travel books, curiously located next to a fatter stack of Maeve Binchy offerings, as he was in need of making great show of dramatically dipping his hand into the section labeled Essays, Literary and pulling out a book I imagine everyone has—who ought to—but nobody reads, a tired old joke I nicked from a courtroom drama on the telly, that day's cases having come to a close. And as in the back of my mind I have been up the river many times, I did indeed follow him home, as it was only five blocks, out of curiosity and a kind of lament, let us call it, and the boredom one tends to cite when one does not want to be alone, without something to stare at—or a mission, even better.

Technically, I have returned from it, from there, from where does it matter—Barnstable, to be specific—to get, now, wherever I happen to be, and yet you must have a sense of waiting at the junction in Chichester to take proper stock of petty rogues and thieves, and hellions—which summons up memories of contrast that are, admittedly, poignant, though I would rather not mind if such stuff were lost upon me. Or me and the boys, as I call them, which they seem to relish. Who await the command to perform—Naxos!—the hams.

Twins in a boating accident near the house, such as it was. Past stuff, stories and faces—your merry old uncle Dutch or Flam vomiting up his guts behind the local in Aldershot, one last time, a face in a picture-book, my dear old Fauré in the corner, head wrapped chin to top with a dirty old yellow rag, looking like Jacob Marley in old two-reelers, broken down men with rotten teeth from years snorting and spitting into corroded wash sinks after brushing out their bleeding gobs with toothbrushes daubed in salt. And my mother, for all the world, in the middle of an ocean. Even though I do not say it could happen to anyone, my idle consolation is idiotic. Opening the cans around seven and lining them up for when the call comes in from the west so there is no sound, none of that three note aluminum business, when I'm after another. Having played a part in enough of this, for enough years—and there is but one thought with several aspects that plays as others—and listening to what I have grown accustomed to listen to, amidst tears, my mind does wander, and I am fronted with Chuck's refrains—who once accompanied me to the West—as the sound in the earpiece becomes more and more like a drone—and other thoughts, borne from the past, dreadfully crystalize. They always leave you. You never leave them. And now I'm one like the others. Fucking brilliant that was. An actual mate, who is not dead, was kind enough to point that such comments constituted, at the least, interesting observations. But what was I to say, my dear Gabriel whom, for a time, as you well know, I referred to as Gustave, and not Gabriel, as you are. I give you credit in your way, though some would say you meddle too much with your major keys—and though your Naxos budget requiem is priced quite cheaply, it is not a terrible amount of music, is it, time-wise? But still, you have been many times a pleasant subject of conversation for me in the HMV classical section on a Saturday night, and I still prefer you—I suppose I always shall—to Berlioz, even though his requiem on the Naxos label is a double disc set, but still priced accordingly to the budget series, with a very convincing painting of Christ withering away on the cross on the cover that reminds me of a mad bald bastard I have since said several parts of several prayers for whom I saw waiting outside the city bus platform gee'd up over something, a crown of thorns tattoo on the top of his head resplendent with bright drops of dripping blood on the same day some spinster lady handed me a pamphlet, forced it upon me, to be precise, which I maintained was a sign, reading, on the outside: WHAT YOU MISS BY BEING A CATHOLIC, and revealing a flailing man falling through the air towards a pit of flames inside the gatefold and the words Going to hell. The woman across the way, with her shades open just enough, thinks she is getting to me lately, and I suppose she is, parading in her thong with her boyfriend, whom I watched moved in, Saturday last, just sitting there, as the boys and I watch, clustered around our small table, Berlioz, as he frequently becomes, well worked up and demanding that the shades come down.

The scene plays out differently each time one is at the junction in Chichester, but what happens externally, what one sees, is essentially the same. Back in university, a mate and I would parade not so very far from the station, our dalliances at the local girls' school not quite providing the epic stories and material for local legends we hoped they would, the very stuff on the mouths of villagers and townsfolk and the people who carried news to the paper merchants and the men at the distillery in the city. Out one cramped room and into another, walls blurry and closing in, like they were toppling as we made our escape, a headmistress, or a veritable legion of said creatures but a corridor behind our latest turn in our mad dash, which included a strategic stop, like we were holdovers from a screwball comedy troupe, in a maintenance closet, where we sought simply to hide and instead were locked in, an overzealous confederate, me mate's bony lass, determining that such a precaution raised less suspicion to the ever watchful eye of the hall attendant that decorum and propriety—to say nothing of virtue—had been corrupted. And it was precisely once that this memory occurred to me while sat in the Chichester railway station, how the mad dash, as it came back to me, sadder and after long years, culminated in escape through a shower room, unoccupied, a general bath with nozzles on the wall that both reminded me of youthful days at the YMCA and got my mind up to images of the gas. But on the outside, seated in the same hard plastic back chair one has sat in each time at the junction, different characters move in much the same way as the ones you saw the time before, all of the times before, really. Alone, the last time, and what must be the last time, en route to a particular suffering bottled away in a particular house, not far from the shore, I beheld a fat bastard who voiced the word "great" and smacked himself in the forehead with his Star Wars paperback as the black lady's baby plonkered down in its little carry-cradle on the seat beside him began to cry. And naturally I thought the same bloody thing.

Moving outside to the taxi stand where it looks as though a cab has never been and so a traveler, sans train ticket, has never left, one can delight in, as I did, the crude depictions of a man and a woman above the doorway, each for some reason with a perfectly round head and stick figure bodies—the economy of paint, perhaps—one swipe of the paintbrush dipped in black amounting for a head of hair, the orange and brown trim of the surrounding wall completing a frieze untouched since the seventies. And as I listened to a woman from the States tell a lonely looking man who was all ears, eyes agog, how she roamed the banks of the Mississippi near her home and there was a McDonald's not fifty yards from the pier itself, I thought of the last time with Chuck and the deaths, for that was why we were going where we were going.

There are people, and you, Berlioz, you pale, rageless sop, though I know you are harmless, would likewise agree with me, that one first considers fitfully, and then gravely, and, eventually, with more passion and less judgment than one is happy, later, to admit, an individual who will only, at some point, decide they have had enough of one, and hail the appearance of person the next, who always seems to stick. And there was that voice on the answerphone, an earlier one—from a time when delusions and necessities of expression get you up to making like you're in love—from years before, after first little and then no contact—faux engagements broken—working itself into a shrill sobbing sound, as though being coached, implored to sound louder and truer and more hysterical for people not known, dead, and a person no longer cared for. You, Gustave, as the four of us have many times been seated around our little table, you and I along with Berlioz and Wolfie, the Mozster, the Big Moz! whose requiem, from 1791, appropriately from his last year, nonetheless, is superiour above all—we cannot quibble over your personal feelings and vanity in this matter—have admitted as much as what I relay here. You with your small glass of port, the Mozster (and who cares if Süssmayr and Eybler and Freystädtler had a hand) with some over-hoppy Oktoberfest beer whose name we jokingly try and pronounce (O the times Gabriel! the times we have had!) and Berlioz with his inferior Spanish wine bought on the cheap, we have huddled around that small table; and though it often falls unto my lot to make sure not a drop goes to waste, how often have we stared up at the wall close-bye, where the Fragonard print that we nicked from someone's garbage hangs—hardly nicking, exactly—as that young man in his pink shirt, with all of those white ruffles around his neck, perches in the brush, his fair maiden, beneath a statue, looking the other way—which really does capture her naiveté—awaiting his arrival, only for us to wonder what he will say to her and each time it breaks our heart? Enough times, quite. And that time at the junction, waiting with Chuck, who knew nothing of the answerphone performance. And as I sat in my normal Chichester chair with my elbows on my knees and my head in my hands, it was after some time that I looked up to see that she was still there. Upon meeting my eyes, she buckled slightly, attempted to say something, the choke in her voice and the look in her eyes not at all being lost on me, and excused herself to get a drink at the water fountain. And when she returned, she looked as composed and as strong as I had ever seen her, though one is not such a fool as all that.

As though there were not something to say for gestures and the gestures in memory you can't get out of your mind—today, after surviving the crosswalk, after another night of videotaped trials on the telly, I made my way to the street behind Chuck's, and there crossed through an alley that allowed me vantage of her doorstep and still possessed what I deemed sufficient cover—for I am a back alley-traipser and an off-season mongerer. I had no intention of seeing her, or illusions I might say. The only point, really, would be to make a spectacle of myself. One of the final movements, perhaps the start of the coda, to borrow a term from the boys, took place at an inn, in a small village one forgets the name of, a last desperate attempt to find some accord, or rediscover what is left of such a fanciful thing, between the four walls of a squat yellow room with faded photographs, one small, inconsequential museum and the vicar's house with its thatched roof falling in visible through the rain outside the window. And, inevitably, what happens is what always happens at these last-ditch outposts where nothing is reclaimed, and yet, more, remarkably, seems to be lost so that later a mate might cite that at least some interesting observations were made. One tires, upon the next trip, of waiting for a dinner car at a junction in Chichester.

Normally, Moz, the Mozster, as I call you between repetitive sets of malfeasance, I would no more talk this way than I would avoid your company after a day is done, and all our dear friends departed. By ourselves with a glass of lager or cider, one can mumble and think on subjects like an answerphone and dear old uncle Flam behind the local—if he ever really existed, save as some fellow in a picture-book—or you Fauré, not Gustave as I once called you, and drunken sops sobbing over people they have never met in long messages that lull like grey rain in villages with single, solitary museums one is not likely to remember, while back in the city one watches the thief make it running out the door with a copy of heartfelt, hard-won essays bulging under his jacket, scarf trailing in the wind. I did not tell you my dear Fauré, you fierce bugger, because I did not think you would care. And you've my cans to open you do, you randy French git.


Copyright©2006 Colin Fleming